Waste Not, Want Not – A Guide to Using Leftover Food

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According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the average family of four wastes $1,500 to $2500 worth of food each year. That’s a lot of money to be tossing into the rubbish bin, so let’s take a closer look at the contents of your refrigerator and discover how to save money by using some of those leftover ingredients which otherwise would have been wasted.

leftover food

Cheese

Chunks of cheese which have been left unwrapped and have dried out are rather unappetizing for sandwiches, but still taste great if you melt them. Replace fresh cheese with leftover odds and ends in your pasta sauces, soups and savory bakes by grating the cheese into the uncooked recipe.

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Vegetables

When it comes to the grocery shopping day and your fridge is full of odds and ends of veg, make a simple soup by lightly cooking the finely chopped ingredients in a little oil, then adding water and simmering until the ingredients are soft.

Fruit

Buy One Get One Free deals on seasonal fruit only represent value for money if you use everything you buy. Preferably, when you make your purchase, select a ripe pack of fruit to eat immediately and one which will continue to ripen at home.

Over-ripe fruit is a boon if you have a sweet tooth as it can be added to cake and dessert recipes, or made into jam. Why not try this easy jam recipe which can be made with as little as a punnet of strawberries?

Ingredients for Simple, Tasty Strawberry Jam

  • Equal weights of strawberries and white sugar – try 500g until you get the hang of the method
  • Juice of a lemon
  • Time in Kitchen: Approx 35 mins
  • Skill Level: Medium

Step One: Place a small plate in the freezer to chill – you’ll use this later to test the set of the jam. Prepare a glass jar by first washing thoroughly in hot, soapy water. Dry the jar thoroughly and sterilize it in the oven at around 360ºF for 10 minutes (you could use a baby bottle sterilizer if you happen to have one handy!)

Step Two: Slice the strawberries in half and place in a stainless steel pan, along with the lemon juice which helps the jam to set. While you bring this mixture to the boil, heat up the sugar, by placing it on a plate in the oven.

Step Three: Allow the strawberries and lemon juice to cook for 3 minutes, then add the heated sugar. At this stage, turn down the heat and be sure to stir continuously, until the sugar has fully dissolved.

Step Four: When the sugar has dissolved, bring the mixture back to the boil and let it cook for 15 minutes. Get the chilled plate out of the freezer, and carefully drip a little jam onto it – this is called testing the set. Remember, hot sugar burns, so take appropriate precautions! If your jam has reached setting point, it will congeal quickly on the plate. If not, cook the mixture for a short time longer and retest.

Step Four: Pour the jam into your prepared jam jar and allow to cool, then serve as you wish.

Cooked Rice

The first thing to bear in mind with cooked rice is that if it is not stored in a fridge, or is reheated more than once it carries a risk of food poisoning. That said, excess rice can be whipped up into a fried rice style dish that the whole family will enjoy. The added bonus of this dish is that there are endless variations, just add whatever meat and vegetable ingredients you have handy.

cooking leftover food

Ingredients for Family Favorite Fried Rice:

  • 1 cup of rice per person
  • Assortment of finely chopped vegetables – 1 cup per person
  • Half a cup of chopped meat or fish per person
  • 1 Egg, beaten.
  • Seasonings
  • Time in Kitchen : 15-20 mins
  • Skill Level : Easy

Step 1: Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick frying pan, and pour the beaten egg in a thin layer over the base of the pan. This will result in a very fine omelette, which you can chop into small pieces and set to aside for later.

Step 2: If you are using raw meat add this to your pan first, and cook thoroughly. If you have pre-cooked meat to use in the recipe (perhaps left over roast chicken or pork) wait until later to add it, as excessive heat causes proteins to toughen.

Step 3: Cook your vegetables, adding a small amount of stock to prevent them from sticking to the pan. It is important not to over-cook the vegetables in this recipe – you want them to maintain a bit of crunch and texture. If you like, splash in some chili sauce, Thai fish sauce         or Soy sauce to jazz up the flavorings.

Step 4: Add rice, any cooked meats or fish and mix together well. Finally, add the chopped omelette, season and serve!

Portions of pasta sauce, soups, stews etc

In my house, we don’t like to eat the same meal twice in a row and I tend to cook rather more than we can eat in one sitting. Rather than seeing leftover dishes that you’ve prepared festering on a plate in the fridge(or feeding them to the dog) portion any leftovers into plastic tubs and stick them in the freezer. As well as saving food, this also means that you have a time-saving meals on hand for those days when you can’t be bothered to slave over a hot stove!

Of course, these are just a few tricks for using up leftover foods, and in using them you may be inspired to try your own recipes and add variations – go for it! Being a resourceful cook means saving money by making the most of what you have in the fridge, so give it a go and you might surprise yourself.

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